Wargaming Fest: Meeting Dolph Lundgren and Taxi Rides from Hell
Last week, I attended the first ever Wargaming Festival at a convention centre in Moscow. In the three days I was in Russia’s capital city, I learned a huge amount about Wargaming and Wargaming-related products, had the most significant and most pointless interview of my career, and genuinely thought I was going to die at least twice.
I first thought I was going to die within half an hour of touching down at Moscow airport. Admittedly, this is partly because I am quite an anxious traveller, constantly checking where all my belongings are, what time I need to be somewhere, how many stops along the Metro line my station is. I like to have a plan in place at all times, and if that plan is upset by anything, I will begin to panic and imagine all the potential ways this unseen eventuality could lead to my untimely death.
My flight into Moscow was the last to land of the group of UK journalists dispatched to the event. But when I got through passport control into arrivals, there was nobody present to meet me. I could only conclude that I had somehow been forgotten. I had no cash money on me, couldn’t read any of the signs, and the only word I know in Russian is 'spasibo', which means 'thank you'. This makes me the politest man in the country, but totally inept at conversation.
The result of all of this was I immediately flew into a panic, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that I was constantly harassed by Russian taxi drivers who were adamant that I needed a taxi. The event organisers had been very clear that under no circumstances should you get into a taxi on your own in Russia. But the taxi drivers clearly had a different opinion on this matter, and the only thing I could do to dissuade them was shout 'thank you!' at them in increasingly alarmed tones. At this point, I was certain that I was going to be swarmed to death by Russian taxi drivers before I’d even set foot in Moscow.
As it turned out, I had not been abandoned. Instead, everyone else’s flights into Russia had been delayed, cancelled, or hindered in some other fashion. When another journalist approached me and asked in lovely, lovely English if I was Rick Lane, I felt like hugging him.
The rest of that evening was fairly pleasant, except for the fact that it was minus 18 degrees outside, the coldest day in Moscow for several years. It’s such an intense level of cold that breathing the air hurts your lungs. On the plus side, stepping out into the Moscow winter will instantly cure your hangover. This I learned the next morning, having attempted to erase the memory of being almost suffocated by a horde of taxi drivers the night before with several pints of surprisingly tasty Russian beer.
The area of Moscow the event was situated in was in a place called Moscow City, a strange collection of massive, futuristic skyscrapers whose rooftops were frequently veiled in the soupy slate-grey of Moscow’s clouds. This area stands in stark contrast to the surrounding cityscape, which comprises mainly Soviet-era tenements and huge factories billowing white smoke from brick-red chimneys. I was struck by just how much the cityscape reminded me of Half Life 2’s City 17. All it was missing were the giant TV screens on which Dr Breen tells everyone that it’s safer there.